A Taste of 2020 Vision
Like pretty well everyone on the planet, the three core members of Melbourne band Taste – guitarists Ken Murdoch and Joey Amenta and bass player Michael Tortoni – were glad to see the back of 2020.
Unlike a lot of their fellow musicians however, when they recorded their “kiss-off” anthem to the year, 2020’s Gone, they decided that they’d donate 20 per cent of whatever sales the release of the song might generate to the charity Beyond Blue, which provides support services for those going through depression.
Beyond Blue and Taste
The impact on musicians and road-crews of COVID-19 hasn’t only been financial, with the cancelling of live music, but also, as Tortoni explains it on the band’s website, “the mental strain is enormous, and with calls to Beyond Blue’s 24/7 Support Service having increased during the pandemic by 48 per cent compared to the same time last year (March through August, we felt we needed to take some form off action.
Taste? Wasn’t there an Irish band called Taste…
Quite right. Fronted by the late great guitarist Rory Gallagher, the Irish Taste had toured and recorded between 1966 and 1970.
The Melbourne Taste was born out of another band called Cloud Nine, which had originally been an Italian wedding band before they approached a promising young schoolboy guitarist named Ken Murdoch to join them.
Soon afterwards, Tortini came into the lineup. After recording a single with producer Ian “Molly” Meldrum, the singer and drummer departed, Murdoch took over lead vocals and another schoolboy prodigy, Virgil Donati, came in on drums.
“Then we got an offer to do an ice-cream advertisement for TV,” Murdoch remembers. “The ice-cream was called Fancy and they wanted us to change our name to Fancy and I said, ‘I really don’t think that’s a good name, but what if I write a song with the word fancy in it?’ And we were mucking around with names and someone said, ‘Taste!’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s good for the ice-cream ad too, so we’ll go with that.’ And then I wrote Tickle Your Fancy. We didn’t end up doing the ad but it kind of set everything in line for what we were going to do.”
Rock’N’Roll Superstar 1976
With second guitarist Joey Amenta on board, Taste sign to Fable’s Bootleg Records and released their debut single, Rock ’N Roll Superstar, in April 1976, the aforementioned Tickle Your Fancy gracing the B-side. The single only charted in Melbourne, reaching #22. Tickle Your Fancy became the title of Taste’s debut album, released in July. Their second single, Degenerate Fool, didn’t do much but third single Boys Will Be Boys got to #14 in Melbourne, #16 nationally, and Taste soon found themselves solidly touring up and down the east coast.
Knights of Love 1977
When the Fable deal fell over their manager was able to get Taste released from their contract, which allowed them to record their next album, Knights Of Love, independently and then leasing it to Phonogram, releasing it in May 1977. “Then Chris,” Murdoch continues, “our manager, got in touch with Seymour Stein from Sire Records, who was in Melbourne, and he came over and listened to the album, the second album, and he loved it.
Seymour Stein and America
There were three of us in the room – me, Chris and Seymour – and he said, ‘This could be really big in America. I will sign you.’ It was incredible, like out of a movie. So full steam ahead to go to America, everything is getting exciting, everyone’s getting ready, enter the parents of the other boys. Joey’s seventeen, Virgil was seventeen, Michael are just turning eighteen, I remember none of us drove, so I would have been seventeen, eighteen…”
Then in came the parents!
“Somewhere along the line, one of the parents met a guy called John Le Sandos, a millionaire wine merchant who had said to them, ‘You should let me manage them because I will give them each $200 a week, I’ll fly them everywhere, they’ll stay in the best hotels, I’ll buy them all new equipment.’”
Buckling to the pressure of parents and the promises of an untested manager, the American deal fell apart and within a couple of months Murdoch quit. The other three tried holding things together for a few more months but by the end of 1977 Taste were done and dusted. Murdoch has joined a band called Texas, Joey Amenta joined Redhouse, then Russell Morris and then Wendy & The Rocketts before becoming one of the busiest sidemen in the business.
Bennett’s Lane in Melbourne
Tortini meanwhile went back to college, studied double bass, got into jazz and eventually set up Melbourne’s iconic club Bennett’s Lane, while Donati joined former Stylus singer Peter Cupples and then Southern Sons before he headed off to the US where he’s become a major fusion drummer.
The 2020 Reissues
Murdoch, Tortini and Amenta reunited in 2008 and have since released an album and two EPs, as well as reissuing remastered versions of their two ‘70s album. 2020’s Gone is included on their latest EP, Brothers Pt 1, released by MR Records.
By Michael Smith, former Associate and Contributing editor at The Drum Media and The Music, freelance music journalist for RAM, Juke, On The Street, JAMM, Sonics and way more, freelance book reviewer for Overland, Island and Quadrant, author of What’s Been Did (And What’s Been Hid): A Narrative History of Australian Pop and Rock, two volumes completed to date, Volume I covering the artists and acts that emerged between 1955 and 1963, Volume II those between 1964 and 1969. Bass player with Mushroom signing Scandal 1976-78, and legendary instrumental surf guitar band The Atlantics 2006-12.